Castlevania III came out in 1989 in Japan and hit North America in 1990 (hitting Europe a little over two years later in 1992) and offered more than a return to form for the series after Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest.
Simon’s open world approach was neat, but it wasn’t quite the fan pleaser that Konami had apparently hoped it would be, so they took a step back and returned to the side-scrolling, linear platforming action adventure the series had started with. But with a twist. A really good twist. This time, our hero won’t be alone in fighting Dracula.
Not only that, but it’s a mega-prequel of sorts taking place one hundred years before the events of the first Castlevania (though the official timeline which was leaked seems to show that it takes place a little over 200 years before it instead). This wasn’t even about the same curse that Simon had to fight for his life against nearly a century later in Castelvania: The Adventure. Instead, it just seems that Dracula himself is the curse that the land is suffering under.
The story was typical Konami at the time which means it didn’t seem to take itself very seriously — or at least, the Western version didn’t. Players starred as Trevor Belmont, great grandsire of Simon Belmont and the origin of the “Belmont Warlord Chromosomes”. The people in the village of Warakiya in the 15th century tremble in fear from the evil lurking in the Morbid Mountains and it’s up to Trevor to save the day.
Trevor also have the power to transform into one of three other spirits to aid you in your war through seventeen levels filled with Dracula’s evil:
- Grant DaNasty – “the ferocious Ghost Pirate”
- Sypha – the Mystic Warlord
- Alucard – Dracula’s forgotten son
The in-game story, however, which introduced itself with a lavish (for the time) intro teaser cued to great music, took a much more serious take on the backdrop and cast the Belmonts as outcasts feared for their great strength and power despite their expertise in battling evil. When Dracula, a sorceror whose dark arts threaten to overwhelm Europe in the 15th century, begins to put his final pieces in place, people finally call out to the Belmont clan for aid which they answer…holy whip in hand.
A password system helped to keep track of the player’s progress through the game and the extra help that Trevor would pick up along the way each featured their own special abilities that could help out in tough situations. Grant can actually climb walls, quick, but not so great when it comes to fighting. Alucard can actually change into a bat and shoot fireballs while Sypha uses spells instead of the secondary weapons that Trevor uses. All of them share the same life gauge that Trevor does, so when one gets hurt, so does their alter ego. Trevor can also partner with only one spirit at a time giving players adding another challenge for players.
Though the game is fairly linear, it still retains a tiny taste of that element of choice that Simon’s Quest gave players. After beating the Ultimate Evil at the end of a major stage (each stage consisted of several smaller stages as well), players can choose which stage they want to branch into next. It’s completely up to them on where they want to go, and which Ultimate Evil they want to confront, adding a great feature to the formula.
Couple that with different partners offering varying ways with which to tackle bad guys and platforming challenges, the action of the first game with Trevor (looking like Simon’s brown leather clad sprite) and his collection of subweapons, and a menagerie of challenging monsters, and Castelvania III had a lot to offer players. The climactic battle with Dracula was also a tough, multi-phased affair with the nefarious sorcerer changing form twice before finally perishing in flaming bits. Even today, series fans still look back on this title as one of the best, if not the best ever.
It was also as big a fond farewell to the NES by the series since, as fan supersite Castlevania Dungeon notes, was also the last Castlevania for the system. The site also has a great collection of screenshots, box shots, manual scans, and other items taking players down memory lane on why the game was so good.
Castlevania III is a great entry to the series and still holds up relatively well today as long as you can forgive some of it limits (such as the edge of the screen below being instant death even if there was a platform past it that you could have landed on but wasn’t visible). Trevor still powers up his whip by finding items in candles, flying enemies can make life hell while jumping from platform to platform, but it’s not insurmountable. And it also offers a ton of replay thanks to its multiple paths and characters making it so that you almost want to see whose ending is their favorite. Of all of the Castlevanias up to this point, Castlevania III was a big leap story-wise in raising the bar of the series’ lore.
As for Trevor’s erstwhile companions, Grant DaNasty reappears in the fighting game, Castlevania: Judgment along with Sypha Belnades…and that’s pretty much it for those two. Alucard, on the other hand, gets his own game with the brilliant Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in 1997 for the Playstation and shows up in various capacities in cameo form or as a playable character such as in Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow in “Julius Mode” in 2005.
Castlevania III would reappear in Konami’s Collector’s Series: Castlevania & Contra which came out in 2002 for PCs, re-released in 2006, and a port for the game had also come out in 2006 for mobiles.
Creative levels, mechanics, and replayability made the game a great action adventure layered over with just enough freedom to keep players digging through its challenges, characters, and branching stages creating a lasting legacy that helped guarantee that Castlevania was here to stay. For the Belmonts, their seemingly unending fight would continue on. For players, it was just another night on the town, armed with Holy Water and a blessed whip.